Vickers Wellington HF208 crash on Mount Brandon, Co. Kerry

20th December 2017

Vickers Wellington HF208 crashed on the slopes of Mount Brandon, Arraglen, Co. Kerry. All six Polish airmen on board were killed and are buried in Belfast.

At dawn on 20th December 1940, Vickers Wellington HF208 took off from RAF Predannack, Cornwall, England. The crew's mission was to carry out U-Boat patrols over the Bay of Biscay in bitterly cold weather. On board were six young airmen from RAF 304 (Polish) Squadron.

HF208 was flown by Flight Sergeant Adamowicz with his co-pilot Sergeant Czerniowski. The navigator was Sergeant Kuflik and the wireless operator was Sergeant Kowalewicz. The remaining crewmen were air gunners Pietrzak and Lugowski.

RAF 304 Squadron Vickers Wellington

Imperial War Museum Photo: MH 2307 (Part of the Ministry of Information Second World War Censorship Bureau Library of Press Photographs: Classified Print Collection). Vickers Wellington GR Mark XIV bombers of RAF 304 (Polish) Squadron prepare for take-off in Cornwall.

RAF 304 Squadron

HF208 carried a Leigh Light which allowed it to illuminate U-Boats on the surface at night. This type of device was first trialed at RAF Limavady in 1941. By the end of the war, it had enabled the carrying planes to make 218 attacks on U-Boats and 206 on ships. Of these, 27 U-Boats were destroyed.

On the morning of 20th December 1943, midway through operations, Flt Sgt Adamowicz radioed back to base. He asked to return due to a malfunction of the radio location equipment. The crew were having difficulty in getting a fix and were last spotted flying over Lismore, Co. Waterford.

No one knows what happened next but it seems that in poor visibility, HF208 crashed into Arraglen on Mount Brandon, Co. Kerry. All six crew on board died in the incident.

At the scene of HF208 crash

A local man, Michael Brick, raised the alarm with the Irish Army HQ at Tralee. A Garda officer from Cloughan village, members of the Local Defence Force and a Red Cross team from Dingle accompanied the Irish Army patrol. They located the wreckage and the bodies of the crew in dark and cold conditions. The bodies of the six men were handed over to the British Army by an Irish Army guard of honour at Middletown on the Co. Monaghan and Co. Armagh border.

RAF 304 Squadron, based at Predannack, Lizard, Cornwall, flew Wellington Bombers. The members of this Squadron were Polish. Like many others, they too were involved in hunting U-Boats. On the 20th of December, 1943, their aircraft was seen by several Look Out Posts (LOPs) skirting along the coastlines of Kerry, Cork and Waterford. Indeed records show that their last reported position was over Lismore in County Waterford heading east-southeast presumably to Predannack. I cannot offer any reason why their aircraft should end up on the slopes of Mount Brandon a few hours later with the loss of all six crewmen on board but I can relate that all the crew were shot by the exploding ammunition in the fire that engulfed the aircraft. All the bodies were recovered outside the aircraft. None suffered burns.

Warplane Research Group of Ireland

Incident reports disputed

Later information from Irish authorities dispelled the claims in this report. At 1122hrs, the time of the crash, the weather was bad. Reports indicated snowstorms in the area but no thunder or lightning. The Irish guard, Sergeant Duffy was on the scene at 1225hrs on 21st December and was responsible for handing the site over to the Irish military at 1500hrs. He also disagreed with the information from the report.

Two of the men killed suffered burns in the accident. No injuries were sustained by gunshot or exploding ammunition as the report claimed. The names of the six men were taken from identity discs in their uniform pockets before their bodies were removed at 2100hrs. Local coroner Sheehan decided no inquest was necessary.

Ammunition destroyed at Mount Brandon

More contradictions to the report came from Captain Pringle of the Irish Army. He visited the scene and found four aerial depth charges, two incendiary devices, flare floats and ball and tracer ammunition. It was all written off as damaged or unserviceable. None of it, though, had detonated or was responsible for injuries or death. A controlled charge placed on the depth charges destroyed all the excess ammunition at the scene.

The Wellington lies on a steep rocky slope 2500 feet above sea level and 3 and a half miles from the base of the mountain over Marsh and Ravine, two streams and boggy land.

Major WP Delamere – Irish Air Corps

Plans to remove the wreckage would have proved too expensive. Difficulties arose due to the remote location in boggy, mountainous land. A British Engineering Officer visited the scene before stating there was no interest in retrieving the wreckage. Even the scrap metal would only have been worth £10-£20.

Remembering the men of HF208

The graves of five of the Polish airmen are in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, Co. Antrim. Sergeant Kuflik was laid to rest in the Jewish Cemetery at Carnmoney.

Visitors to the crash site may still see visible parts of the plane’s framework in a gully on the mountainside. A memorial plaque commemorates the Polish aircrew on the wall of O’Connor’s Bar and Guesthouse, Cloghane, Co. Kerry.

Last NameFirst Name(s)RankRoleInformation
AdamowiczKlemensFlight SergeantPilotRAF 304 Squadron.
CzerniowskiStanislawFlight SergeantCo-PilotRAF 304 Squadron.
KuflikPawel Naftali HirszFlight SergeantNavigatorRAF 304 Squadron.
KowalewiczPawelFlight SergeantWireless OperatorRAF 304 Squadron.
LugowskiKazimierzFlight SergeantAir GunnerRAF 304 Squadron.
PietrzakWincentyFlight SergeantAir GunnerRAF 304 Squadron.
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